Calvinism, Arminianism, and
Eternal Security

By Matt Perman

Calvinism teaches that freedom is "the ability to act according to your desires." Furthermore, it teaches that the will "always chooses according to its greatest desire." For example, if I have a choice between eating a steak or eating chopped liver, I will always choose the steak because I desire it most. In fact, it could be said that I was unable to choose the liver since I did not want the liver. If you have no desire for something, you simply will not choose it.

Arminianism teaches that freedom is the ability to have chosen other than you did. For example, on the Arminian view I did not make a free choice in choosing the steak. Why? Because my choice was determined by something -- my greatest desire. They say that unless I was able to choose the liver over the steak, I was not acting freely when I chose the steak.

Calvinists are not troubled by the fact that I "could not have done otherwise." They point to a distinction between natural ability to do otherwise and moral ability to do otherwise. They believe that responsibility (and thus freedom) rest upon natural ability to do otherwise, but not moral ability to do otherwise.

Natural ability to do otherwise means that there are no physical constraints forcing one to act. It means that if one wants to do otherwise, he can. If natural ability is taken away, responsibility goes as well. For example, if my teacher commands me to fly like a bird to Canada, he cannot hold me accountable for not doing it because I do not have the physical capability to do so.

Moral inability simply means that you will not choose what you do not want to choose. It does not mean that you could not chose it if you wanted it. It means that you cannot choose it because you have no desire for it. Moral inability, therefore, does not remove accountability. For example, if my teacher commands me to do an assignment, my lack of moral ability would mean I have no desire to do the assignment. Let's say I have a greater desire to watch T.V. than do the assignment. Obviously, I could do it if I wanted to, but I simply do not want to. Clearly, my desire to watch T.V. being greater than my desire to obey my teacher would not remove my moral accountability.

In the steak example, I made a free choice on the Calvinist view because I had the natural ability to choose the liver if I had wanted to choose the liver. Nothing outside of myself was forcing me to choose the steak. I was not physically prevented from eating liver. Since I had the physical capability to choose the liver, I made a real choice. My inability to choose the liver was a moral inability, not a natural inability. When I say I was unable to choose the liver, I mean that I could not bring myself to choose the liver because I had no desire for the liver.

Which view of freedom does the Bible teach? The Calvinist or the Arminian? A quick look at the biblical teaching of eternal security reveals that the Calvinist view is correct.

Once a person comes to Christ, the cannot loose their salvation (John 10:26-30). They are eternally saved and will go to heaven when they die. It is not possible for them to be lost. This is a big problem for the Arminian view of freedom. If it is not possible for a person to loose his salvation, then there are two options:

1. It is possible for a person to reject Christ and reject eternal life, but God will still take him to heaven when he dies even though he has rejected it.
2. It is not possible for a person to reject Christ and eternal life once he is saved.

Under option one, clearly the person's will is violated. For the person would be rejecting Christ but God would be taking them to heaven anyway. He would be saving the person against his will. This would obviously be inconsistent with both the Arminian view of freedom and the Bible.

So we must conclude that a true Christian will never utterly reject Christ and heaven. But if it is not possible for a person to reject Christ, then the person cannot do other than continue believing. This is another problem for the Arminian view -- on the Arminian view, the minute that you cannot do otherwise, you are not free. Thus, eternal security is inconsistent with the Arminian view of freedom.

The Arminian may respond "the person will never reject Christ because they to reject Christ. They are freely continuing to believe because they want to continue believing. They cannot reject Christ because they do not want to." But isn't that the Calvinist view of freedom? It certainly isn't the Arminian view because the person cannot do otherwise than continue believing.

The Biblical teaching of eternal security clearly teaches the Calvinist view of freedom--the person cannot reject eternal life once they are saved because they do not want to reject eternal life. God causes us to continue wanting to believe in Him once we are saved -- Jeremiah 32:40; Ezekiel 36:27.

For those who do not believe in eternal security, my argument need not change much. In heaven we will no longer sin or reject Christ. So, it is not possible for a saint in heaven to reject God. This leads to the same dilemma as eternal security, unless one accepts the Calvinist view of freedom.

What implications does this have? While there are many, a central one is that this reveals that God is able to determine who will be saved without violating our wills or forcing us to believe. If a person is elect, God does not force them to believe but neither does He leave open the possibility that they will use their will to reject Him and overthrow His plan. For if God prepares their heart and gives them a desire for Christ that is greater than their desire to remain in sin, the person will most certainly come -- and will come freely. Perhaps the implications for salvation can be summed up most clearly like this: If God is able, after we have been saved, to keep us believing in Christ without violating our freedom, why can't He, before we are saved, cause us to believe in Christ in order to become saved -- without violating our wills? In light of what we have seen, it seems clear that He can.

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